Jack’s Naughty Bits: James Joyce, Ulysses

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Jack's Naughty Bits


history, like all history, is often thought of as a series of watershed events performed

by larger than life men and women. The reality, of course, is that the would-be Caesars of the

world only become Caesar amidst a play of contextual elements that represent not merely

particular moments, but long-drawn dynamics that happened to come to a head. When Louis XIV’s famous “L’Etat, c’est moi!” declared his historical importance more tersely than

any man had done before, he spoke truer than he realized: Louis was, himself,

the state only because world history had conspired through an infinitely

complex set of conditions to place him at that position at that time. A battle won or lost, a marriage achieved or failed, and he would have been left in the wings of the European stage, would have remained lost to the communal eye of blind Fates. We are none of us

history without history’s blessing, and she is a very mercurial bestower.


The cult of personality that leads people to see history through the actions of

individuals translates, in terms of literary history, to the somewhat overplayed ideas of

genius and breakthrough, to the misleading belief that Shakespeare invented the modern stage or

Defoe the English novel. While it might be true that these authors’ works show characteristics

not found as conspicuously in previous literature, the progression of fiction is never as radical as

it seems. Neither Homer, Virgil, Dante or Milton came out of nowhere, and though we might

look to their works as particularly overt consolidations of literary talent or change, they are

more symptoms of overriding shifts than evidence of creation in a vacuum. When Milton wrote

that his “adventurous song” would pursue “things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme” he was

borrowing the phrase from Ariosto, who borrowed it from Dante before him. Such is the nature

of literary originality.


And yet . . . Here is where the other shoe drops. Literary greatness is still literary

greatness, and though history’s giants might not have been the first or only to do what they

did, nor entirely responsible for the doing, their names provide shorthand markers for sites of

unambiguous beauty. James Joyce is clearly one of these, and his Ulysses stands in many

estimates as the consummate twentieth-century novel. And though I excerpted it once before as

part of my

banned books article, I do so here again to demonstrate the part of


that was most “original,” for Joyce, it’s often argued, was the first author to represent internal

monologue. The excerpt below is from the inner thoughts of Molly Bloom, and, though one

might overstate Joyce’s uniqueness, one can’t overstate the raw, raunchy, rambling

mastery of the last thirty pages of his finest novel.

* * *

From Ulysses by James Joyce

I near jumped out of my skin I wanted to pick him up when I saw him following me along the

Calle Real in the shop window then he tipped me just in passing I never thought hed write

making an appointment I had it inside my petticoat bodice all day reading it up in every hole

and corner while father was up at the drill instructing to find out by the handwriting or the

language of stamps singing I remember shall I wear a white rose and I wanted to put on the old

stupid clock to near the time he was the first man kissed me under the Moorish wall my

sweetheart when a boy it never entered my head what kissing meant till he put his tongue in

my mouth his mouth was sweetlike young I put my knee up to him a few times to learn the way

what did I tell him I was engaged for fun to the son of a Spanish nobleman named Don Miguel

de la Flora and he believed that I was to be married to him in three years time theres many a

true word spoken in jest there is a flower that bloometh a few things I told him true about

myself just for him to be imagining the Spanish girls he didnt like I suppose one of them

wouldnt have him I got him excited he crushed all the flowers on my bosom he brought me he

couldnt count the pesetas and the perragordas till I taught him Cappoquin he came from he

said on the Blackwater but it was too short then the day before he left May yes it was May

when the infant king of Spain was born Im always like that in the spring Id like a new fellow

every year up on the tiptop under the rockgun near OHaras tower I told him it was struck by

lightning and all about the old Barbary apes they sent to Clapham without a tail careering all

over the show on each others back Mrs Rubio said she was a regular old rock scorpion robbing

the chickens out of Inces farm and throw stones at you if you went anear he was looking at me I

had that white blouse on open at the front to encourage him as much as I could without too

openly they were just beginning to be plump I said I was tired we lay over the firtree cove a

wild place I suppose it must be the highest rock in existence the galleries and casemates and

those frightful rocks and Saint Michaels cave with the icicles or whatever they call them

hanging down and ladders all the mud plotching my boots Im sure thats the way down the

monkeys go under the sea to Africa when they die the ships out far like chips that was the

Malta boat passing Yes the sea and the sky you could do what you liked lie there for ever he

caressed them outside they love doing that its the roundness there I was leaning over him with

my white ricestraw hat to take the newness out of it the left side of my face the best my blouse

open for his last day transparent kind of shirt he had I could see his chest pink he wanted to

touch mine with his for a moment but I wouldn’t let him he was awfully put out first for fear

you never know consumption or leave me with a child embarazada that old servant Ines told me

that one drop even if it got into you at all after I tried with the Banana but I was afraid it

might break and get lost up in me somewhere yes because they once took something down out of a

woman that was up there for years covered with limesalts theyre all mad to get in there where

they come out of youd think they could never get far enough up and then theyre done with you

in a way till the next time yes because theres a wonderful feeling there all the time so tender

how did we finish it off yes O yes I pulled him off into my handkerchief pretending not to be

excited but I opened my legs I wouldnt let him touch me inside my petticoat I had a skirt

opening up the side I tortured the life out of him first tickling him I loved rousing that dog in

the hotel rrrsssst awokwokawok his eyes shut and a bird flying below us he was shy all the

same I liked him like that morning I made him blush a little when I got over him that way

when I unbuttoned him and took his out and drew back the skin it had a kind of eye in it theyre

all Buttons men down the middle on the wrong side of them Molly darling he called me . . .

© The Trustees of the Estate of James Joyce